We're almost to the halfway point in the season, and that means it's time to revisit the Gamecocks Blogger Roundtable. I'll be hosting this time around, with additional participants being Leftover Hot Dog's Flounder, GABA and TSK's cocknfire, the Post and Courier's Travis Haney, and Gamecock Anthem's Wes Mitchell. Be sure to check out their sites for their responses over the course of the week. My questions and answers are below.
1. With Florida reeling and the Gamecocks fresh off a stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama, is Carolina now the favorite to win the East?
Right now, I think you have to go with Carolina as the clear favorite. A lot can change between now and USC's November visit to Gainesville, certainly. You have to imagine that Florida will begin playing better at some point, and Carolina has to prove that it do something that has proven very difficult for more or less its entire tenure in the SEC: winning in November. The Gators also have the good fortune of getting to host what will likely be a play-in game on their home turf. What we know right now, though, is that South Carolina is playing good football on both sides of the ball and is out in front in the standings, while the Gators are playing catchup with an almost entirely disfunctional offense and a defense that's not going to make those problems a non-factor. It bears observing that South Carolina convincingly beat an Alabama team that manhandled Florida the week prior. Taking that into consideration, you have to give Carolina the advantage at this point.
2. The Gamecocks now face a stretch of games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in which they'll likely be in the unfamiliar territory of being relatively sizeable favorites. Which of these games presents the biggest challenge and risk of a potential upset for the Gamecocks?
I think you have to go with Kentucky. The narrative sets up well for an upset: the 'Cats have had this game circled for years now, while we're set up for a letdown after beating 'Bama. And while they're struggling right now, the 'Cats have the weapons to beat us. Randall Cobb will present problems similar to what Cameron Newton gave us, and if Kentucky exploits our weaknesses like Auburn did, the 'Cats should be able to move the ball very well, just as they did last year. Of course, it's also very likely that we're going to move the ball very well against Kentucky, and I like our weapons in a shootout. You never know what can happen in a high-scoring game, though, and I'll admit I'm a bit worried. Vanderbilt, knock on wood, shouldn't be as much of a challenge, and after watching Tennessee / UGA last week, I foresee a Carolina rout when the Vols come to town.
3. The biggest surprise for this years team's has to be the offense's rapid transformation into something that looks increasingly like a vintage Spurrier offense. What has the difference maker been for the Carolina offense?
There has been improvement all around for our offense: Stephen Garcia is playing better, Alshon Jeffery has taken the next step and become a true monster at receiver, and the offensive line is better if still somewhat inconsistent. The big difference to me, though, is Marcus Lattimore. Having a dangerous runner like Lattimore has allowed us to balance our attack somewhat, and that may be what's made the biggest difference for the offensive line. Lattimore has also given us a reliable scoring threat inside the ten-yard line, contributing to our penchant for not having to settle for FGs, which was a major problem for us at times last season.
As an aside, I think the other way that Lattimore's performance is going to pay dividends for us is on the recruiting trail. Along with Jeffery, Lattimore is becoming a household name, and high-profile recruits who want to come in and make a name for themselves right away are going to see what Lattimore is doing here and say that maybe South Carolina gives them just as good of a chance to be a star as the schools with more history. I don't think you can underestimate what that means to the elite prospects.
4. After Stephen Garcia's career performance, is the QB controversy now at rest? Or are we likely to see Connor Shaw take meaningful snaps in upcoming games?
Garcia played the game of his life on Saturday, and the Ball Coach responded in kind, showering Garcia with glowing praise and in large part crediting him with the victory. However, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see Shaw play meaningful snaps in an upcoming game. Spurrier remains Spurrier, and if Garcia isn't getting it done for any extended period of the game, Spurrier might give Shaw another shot. I'm not sure if I think that's the right move, but it's what Spurrier does.
That said, I wouldn't be at all opposed to seeing Shaw get into one of the next three games if we can build a nice lead. I'm very interested to see what we has to offer--when the game isn't on the line.